Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Harris and I take a car service to the Point, a patch of Colonial houses in varying degrees of renovation and upkeep, some with secret gardens, on narrow streets, some named after trees. We disembark on Washington Street, along the harbor, before a dull gray Victorian.
The house is so crowded I have to work to see the marble fireplaces and wide-plank pine floors until there’s a rush to the decks overlooking the harbor. The America’s Cup fleet races are starting.
I examine a carved-wood staircase. “You see yesterday’s capsize?”
Recognizing Stumpy’s voice feels good, a baby step toward belonging.
“I didn’t get up here til evening.”
Stumpy shakes his head, almost in disgust, but quickly turns animated. “What a sight. I’m a single hull guy, but those cats.” He whistles, extols the beauty and speed of the catamarans with such enthusiasm that I’m getting excited myself about a sport I know nothing about. I’m vulnerable to catching other people’s moods.
“Sweetie and I made a bet. I like an underdog but I had to go with Oracle.”
“What’s the prize?”
He grins. “Can’t say in polite company.”
“Thanks for that much.” I don’t see Harris, and slip away from Stumpy trying not to imagine he and Sweetie having any kind of sex, so of course the pictures get more and more vivid until a large Navajo rug hanging on a wall catches my attention. I slip around the edges of high-ceilinged rooms with the sort of eclectic mix of antiques– a gas lamp, a Regency table with lion-paw feet, Japanese turn-of-the-century prints—that’s inherited not collected. I climb the stairs, accompanied by a couple heading to the roof deck. The man’s eyes roam my body and I pretend I feel better about it by remembering Mae West’s line that she’d rather be looked over than overlooked. The guy’s date manages the latter part.
They rise up another flight and I duck down a hallway lined with guest bedrooms that are among the first I’ve seen in town that don’t have a nautical theme. No feminine touches, either.
“There’s no point!”
I halt a few steps before a half-closed door. I’ve never heard Harris sound angry.
“Don’t be such a prude. It was years ago, now…”
“Two!” Harris replies to a woman’s voice.
“Whatever. She’s had plenty of guys since. And I’m so tired of hearing poor Meade, her family hates her, she lost her fiancé. She treated him like crap, and he wasn’t going to marry her in the end.”
“Just settle the estate and get on with your life.”
“This is my hometown, too. And she doesn’t deserve any more of Mummum’s money than I do.”
Jinx—I might have known it from the clippity-clip of her voice, a gallop just like her sister’s.
“Clarissa made the decision. I don’t think you can blame Meade.”
“I thought you, at least, wouldn’t take sides,” she says.
“I’m not. I’m asking you not to make a bad situation worse by telling her you were sleeping with him.”
Jinx’s silence is brief. “Don’t worry about it. She’s quite good at avoiding me.”
I slink back down the stairs and out to the bumper-to-bumper deck. My back pressed flat against the house, I listen to cheers and grunts and try to decipher the language of sailing. I can see only the spectators’ boats clogging the harbor, so I gaze in the opposite direction at the Pell Bridge. When I’d tried to guess what Jinx had done to earn the opprobrium of this crowd, I knew it had to be more than the standard-issue dalliance with hard drugs or rapid-fire trust fund depletion. This was the town of Doris Duke and Claus von Bulow, after all. I’d assumed Jinx had fallen prey to a colorful new version of rich-kid self-destruction. I hadn’t considered that the person she had hurt was her sister.
“One of the longest suspension bridges in the country.”
The new voice startles me, and I’m glad. Had I seen its owner approach I would have also been tongue-tied, but now I had an excuse.
“Sorry to sneak up, but I believe a host should spend time with each of his guests.”
His left eyebrow twitches. He is taller than I am and I instantly calculate that I can wear a two-inch heel and keep it that way.
“I mean, about the bridge. I’m an architect.”
“Wonderful.” He smiles. “So when was this house built?”
“1880s or 90s?”
“It’s not really a fair question, forgive me. But it was actually built in 1789, and got its first update a hundred years later. A Victorian face-lift. A few traces of the original are about if you look carefully.” Dark-eyed and dimpled, his face chameleoned from swarthy to elegant. The slight asymmetry of his face—the tip of his nose slightly tilted left and his mouth a bit crooked, though it righted itself when he smiled— kept him from being too pretty.
“I’ve always been a fan of scavenger hunts.”
The deck erupts as one of the racing boats bangs into a mark boat. The host whose name I don’t know dashes to the railing.
I slip into the house and start my hunt at the bar. The bartender watching the race on his phone looks annoyed when I ask for a glass of pinot grigio. I reach for the bottle.
“I’ll pour it myself, no problem.”
Before I came to Newport I hadn’t had a drink in the afternoon since college. Now I did almost every weekend, and each time I reasoned that it was a special occasion. The sun-gorgeous days were so relaxing, so uplifting in their newness, that champagne always seemed appropriate. I’m cleaning up my act by switching to wine.
In the kitchen, the English tile fireplace suddenly looks phony. I scoot down to see the interior.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Playing a game.”
“Alone?” Harris doesn’t wait for an explanation. He introduces me to Jinx, who immediately starts talking to the man who came in with them without so much as a glance at me. I take it as confirmation Harris told her a lot about me.
“It ghastly hot in here. Shall we? We’ve got a party at the Clambake,” Jinx leans toward Harris but instead of kissing his cheek she grabs both his hands. “Be cool, okay.”
Her escort waves goodbye like Queen Elizabeth.
It’s time to move on, Harris says, to Harbour Court. I place my glass in the deep porcelain sink and follow Harris outside.
“Shouldn’t we thank our host?”
“Rit? Nah. We’ll see him later, or tomorrow. We’ll watch from the Mayfair.”
I know enough not to ask any more about him.
“How long is Meade’s sister in town?”
“Couple of days.”
“She’s not as pretty as Meade.” I want to be loyal, to defend Meade. Harris doesn’t answer.
Our car arrives and we climb in back. A bottle of Hiedsieck waits in an ice bucket. I glance through the window at Rit’s house.
“What’s that?” Harris pops the cork.
“It’s dark gray with navy shutters. Colonial colors. Victorians generally used earthy colors, or pastels.”